Summer sausage is a reasonably dry sausage that is usually made from beef. It is also fermented, giving it a slightly tangy flavor and allowing the sausage to be stored without refrigeration. You typically find it on charcuterie boards and in gift baskets around the holiday season but can also be enjoyed at any time of the year.
Knowing how to smoke summer sausage on a pellet smoker will help you elevate your parties and save you from buying store-bought summer sausage. When you make your summer sausage, the difference from the kind you buy in the store is night and day.
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Making summer sausage is similar to other sausage types you could make at home in terms of the actual building and cooking of the sausage. But when it comes to making summer sausage, the process is a little more complicated than making most other sausage types.
There are a couple of ways to make your summer sausage, and some methods are more challenging than others. The process has changed many times over the years to make it easier for most home cooks, but many people still use old-world methods.
Making the summer sausage will depend on several key factors, such as choosing the correct and freshest meats. Also, the seasonings and spices are going to play a significant role in the overall taste of the summer sausage and the fermenting and curing process.
Since summer sausage is mainly smoked, the type of smoker you use will be critical to the final end product. You need to have a smoker that is capable of maintaining very low temperatures during the entire smoking process. That is why a pellet smoker will probably be the best choice. They are easy to use and will do all the work for you to maintain temperatures.
To make sure the entire process goes smoothly from beginning to end, it’s best to have all your ducks in a row before starting anything. There are many tools you will need to get the job done. Before you even start mixing your meats, curing, or smoking the summer sausage, make a checklist of all the tools you will need. This way, you don’t run into any problems throughout the entire process.
Summer Sausage Tool Checklist
- Meat Grinder
- Cutting board
- Chef knife
- Beef casings (60mm)
- Sausage stuffer
- Sausage tubes
- Mixing bowls
- Spice grinder/mortar and pestle
- Kitchen twine
- Kitchen shears
- Pellet smoker
- Pellets (fuel)
- Sanitizer bucket
- Spray bottle
- Kitchen towels
- Sheet tray
Preparing the Sausage
First, you want to acquire some quality meats. Summer sausage is usually made with beef or beef and pork. But it can also be made from other game meats like venison as well. In the end, it doesn’t matter what type of meats you choose. What matters is that you get the meat to fat content ratio correct. If you have too much meat and not enough fat, the summer sausage will turn out very dry.
If you use too much fat and not enough meat, the summer sausage will be gritty and hard to eat. Most people say it is best to go with a ratio of 80% to 20% fat. You never want to go any higher than 35% fat content, and even then, it’s still pushing it.
Make sure you choose your meats wisely. Some meats are leaner than others, while some cuts have a much higher fat content. For most pitmasters, they like to use beef chuck for their summer sausage. Pork shoulder is also a very common meat found in summer sausage because of the higher fat content. We will be going with a ratio of 75% beef chuck to 25% pork shoulder for this recipe.
It’s right in the middle of the spectrum and is the most commonly used ratio for smoking summer sausage on a pellet smoker. If you can grind your meat, then do so. Of course, you can use ground meat you buy in the store or have your local butcher grind it for you. But grinding the meat yourself will guarantee the best and freshest quality of meat that you could use.
When it comes to the spices and seasonings used to make summer sausage, it varies from person to person. But in all honesty, summer sausage should have far fewer seasonings than if you were to make Italian sausage, polish sausage, or even bratwurst.
For summer sausage, it’s all about the quality of the meat. So, keep it simple. You only need a few spices, so you don’t overcomplicate the summer sausage. Garlic, pepper, coriander, and mustard seed are among the most common spices used.
As for seasonings, that is a different story. Since summer sausage is fermented, you need to use cultures to help the meat ferment over a matter of hours or days. This can be a very dangerous process and is not recommended to any first-time summer sausage maker or anyone who is not a professional.
An excellent alternative to use is a product called Fermento. It is a dairy-based product that will speed up the fermentation process and does not require refrigeration. The recommended use is about 1 ounce per 1 pound of meat. You can also use non-fat dry milk as well. This product will give the summer sausage the coveted tangy taste.
Also, since summer sausage is smoked at low temperatures for more extended periods, you run the risk of bacteria forming in the meat, making you very sick. To avoid this, you need to cure the meat with curing salt. The most common curing salt used is pink salt (aka Prague powder #1), which cures the meat and tenderizes it.
Click here for our article Cold Smoking vs Hot Smoking Foods.
You want to make sure the meat is mixed with your seasonings, spices, salts, and cultures very well. If you are grinding your meat, then add all the seasonings and salts to the meat before putting it through the grinder.
This will ensure that everything gets mixed well. You may even want to pass it through the grinder twice to make sure it’s thoroughly mixed. When stuffing your summer sausage, make sure there are no air pockets and that the meat is packed firmly in the beef casing. Since summer sausage is much larger in diameter, this can happen quite often.
The Smoking Process
As far as the smoking process goes, smoking any other meat in your pellet smoker is the same as smoking summer sausage. Turn it on like you usually would and make sure to fill the hopper full of pellets.
But what is going to be different than smoking most other meats is the temperature. Summer sausage needs to be smoked at a very low temperature to start to gain color to the meat. It’s also done this way because of the fat content in your summer sausage.
As the temperature rises in the smoker and in the summer sausage, the fat will begin to melt and mix with the meat. If you smoke the sausage at a higher heat initially, you will lose most of your fat content, and the summer sausage will turn out dry and brittle.
The best thing to do is smoke the summer sausage at 130 degrees to start then, as time goes on, gradually raise the pellet smoker’s temperature. A temperature of 175 –190 degrees is what you want to finish the summer sausage at in the pellet smoker.
The summer sausage’s final internal temperature should be no less than 160 degrees when it is done smoking.
- 2 ½ pounds beef chuck roast, cut in 1″ cubes
- ¾ pound pork shoulder, cut in 1″ cubes
- 1 ½ tbsp. Kosher salt
- 1 tsp. Curing salt (pink salt)
- 2 tsp. Black pepper
- ¼ cup Fermento
- 2 tsp. Mustard seeds
- 1 ½ tbsp. Sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Mix all ingredients and pass through the grinder twice. Stuff 60mm beef casings with the meat mixture and tie off at both ends with kitchen twine.
- Allow the sausages to rest at room temperature for 4 hours. Place in the smoker at 130 degrees for 2 hours. Turn up the heat to 170 degrees and continue to smoke for 4 hours or until the sausage has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
- Allow the sausage to rest for 2 hours before slicing and serving.
Smoking and preparing summer sausage can be a tricky and dangerous process if you do not know what you are doing. It is best to educate yourself as much as possible before trying to attempt it at home.
But if you know how to smoke summer sausage on a pellet smoker, then your friends and family will be asking you never to stop doing it.
Click here for our article How to Smoke Sausage in a Pellet Smoker.
Does summer sausage need to be frozen or refrigerated?
No. It can be stored at room temperature. But it will last longer if stored in the fridge.
What is the best wood for smoking summer sausage?
Hickory is one of the best and most commonly used woods for smoking summer sausage. Pellets are available in many different kinds of wood and hickory pellets is one of the most common.
Learn more about wood pellets.
How long does summer sausage last?
If stored at room temperature, it can last up to 3 months. If refrigerated, it can last 6 months to 2 years, depending on packaging.